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As our workforce approaches nearly a year of telecommuting during the pandemic, companies are struggling with creating culture in a virtual environment. Now that we’ve sorted out many of the best practices for tech and productivity issues to get the daily work done, it’s time for leaders to focus on building a thriving virtual corporate culture.

Leading Corporate Cultural Change

An in-depth study on more than 100 social and behavioral models, published in the Harvard Business Review, ultimately concluded that “when properly aligned with personal values, drives and needs, culture can unleash tremendous amounts of energy toward a shared purpose and foster an organization’s capacity to thrive.” But how do we get there while trying to redefine ourselves as a remote workforce? Creating culture is something that you must be intentional about – both in purpose and practice. Dispersed teams do require more concentrated efforts to keep collaboration and engagement thriving. The task is even tougher as feelings of isolation grow, making the need for connections more critical. Whether this is a temporary situation or a more permanent transition for your company, your virtual corporate culture will benefit from developing a quality process to onboard new hires and keep employees united. One thing working in our favor is that culture is fluid. With the right guidance, it can evolve with changing opportunities and demands. Fortunately, we can apply many of the same best practices online that we use when interacting face to face. We just need to make a few tweaks. When considering who communications and invites should come from, know that “culture and leadership are inextricably linked,” the HBR researchers noted. “The best leaders,” they say, “can sense when change is required and can deftly influence the process.” By stepping up your communication strategy, increasing employee training opportunities and finding creative ways to have fun, you will be leading in the right direction. [1]

Communicating Frequently with Compassion

Employees need to know that their work matters and that they matter as a person. When uncertainty is allowed to breed, anxiety spreads like an infection. According to a study conducted by Culture Amp, 57% of employees lose trust in leaders who fail to clearly communicate expectations and decisions promptly. Frequent, transparent communication is critical to business success at any time, but don’t fall into the trap of overcommunicating in an effort to strengthen interactions. Everyone is already bombarded with messages. Ensure your information rises to the top of the clutter by providing a dedicated company platform for sharing news and connecting with coworkers. This could be anything from a company newsletter or intranet to a Slack or Microsoft Teams channel. The point is to make updates easy to access at any time. Company communications shouldn’t be all about business. Celebrate employees’ individual and collective successes by sharing stories about their creative solutions. Managers can strengthen personal connections by regularly checking in with each employee over phone or chat about everyday life. Culture Amp found that 8 in 10 employees are more adaptable to changing working conditions when they are equipped to take care of their families. Make yourself approachable by reaching out first, and show genuine care for your team by ensuring that they are engaging. If they aren’t, then find out what barriers are preventing them from doing so. [2]

Strengthening Culture Through Training

Technical skills are typically the priority when companies plan out their training calendar. One way to deepen employees’ understanding of your mission is to develop a training series based on each corporate culture value. During the meeting, ask each employee to consider: What does this value look like in your job and in the company’s actions? What does it not look like? Every person should have an opportunity to discuss these answers to expand and define the collective perspective. This helps create alignment when everyone is feeling like they are working in isolated silos. “Once employees understand company values, they can begin to see themselves in those values and the culture of your company,” advises Jackie Gernaye, owner of The Alternative Board Suffolk-Long Island. For more informal training options, consider hosting a guest speaker or sharing a motivational TED talk during a lunch hour. Training that develops specific skillsets has greater success at encouraging cultural microshifts. Instead of offering a general overview on software, deep dive into settings and features that improve efficiency and productivity. Many employees have learned programs like Zoom, Skype, Slack, PowerPoint and Outlook on the fly, while navigating a pandemic, so they have only picked up the most necessary parts to get their jobs done. [3]

Building Bonds by Having Fun

Culture Amp company surveys report that productivity levels are rising while employees work from home, but the fun factor seems to be dwindling. Connectivity is essential for nurturing collaboration, avoiding burnout and sparking innovation. Just like a vacation, if you don’t schedule fun time, then it won’t happen. Tight groups might meet on camera daily or weekly while larger teams might prefer monthly or quarterly social time. You can schedule activities on company time or plan for virtual coffee breaks, lunches or happy hours. Limiting work updates to the first five minutes encourages everyone to arrive promptly and puts the focus on fun. You must have activities planned to encourage interaction. [4] Virtual video environments are intimidating, especially in large groups, so be ultra-aware of voices that are being limited. Use tools like Zoom’s breakout rooms to quickly divvy coworkers into smaller groups for games and icebreakers, and then have each group’s nominated speaker report their answers to the larger team. Incentivize attendance by offering prizes – everyone appreciates a $5 coffee card or $25 to spend at Amazon! The internet is brimming with ideas for online culture-building activities to keep the team spirit solid. Old-school staples like bingo, trivia and scavenger hunts are popular, or coworkers can gather informally for morning mediations or afternoon yoga sessions. In advance of meetings, managers can send out fun topics to discuss. Would You Rather, Best Places and Pick 3 questions reveal fun personality quirks. You can also jazz up meetings with competitions or amusing themes, such as crazy hair, team jersey or funny hat day. If you need help building back-office or executive-level culture Keystone Advanced Solutions can help. Please feel free to call or email us. [5]